By Caleigh Crow
When I dropped in on rehearsal for A Closer Look, I was not surprised to see three couples dancing a tango, but I was surprised by the near dozen people in the room. For a FRINGE show, that’s a decently sized cast and crew, making for a busy rehearsal, and the air was buzzing with excitement as the scene came to a close. Cheryl Williams, who wrote, produced, and stars in A Closer Look, introduces me to the group and I’m greeted with smiles and friendly waves. The reason for the amiable atmosphere can be credited to Cheryl, who could add ‘friend wrangler’ to her list of epitaphs, as she has gathered this group of people together herself. “I have good friends that I wanted to bond with and do a project with, so basically all my artistic creative friends, I’ve roped them into this project,” she says, laughing. “I wanted a reason for us to get together other than just drinking and going for dinner.” Some of them are friends of hers from the McGill Toastmasters club, some are people she met over the course of her twenty-year long career as a dance teacher, and some are people she’s picked up along the way, but very few of them, Cheryl included, have much theatre experience, which is the reason she wanted to do the project. “Stepping out and doing this FRINGE show is a bit like me facing many fears and stepping out of my comfort zone,” she says.
The show is semi-autobiographical, about a woman who longs for a personal connection with someone she admires from afar and veers into spooky territory by including lucid dreaming and telepathy into the story. “She can hear people’s thoughts, she starts to hear more and more of people’s negativity,” Cheryl explains, “She has someone she sees in her dreams every night. This is a wise being. He’s guiding her and saying what do you think you should do?” The performance includes several artistic elements, including original poetry, music, and dance. For a first project, it’s an extremely ambitious one, but Cheryl can accomplish a lot with a little help from her friends. English teacher by day, actor by night, Dave Bomont, agrees. “It’s really amazing how she’s been able to rally the dedication and time, skills, energy, of two dozen people,” he says. “As I’ve been seeing it unveiling itself, I feel a sense of pride to be involved with it, because it’s so ambitious and its being pulled off in a really great way.”
Counting herself lucky, Cheryl tells me about assembling her dream team. “There’s a friend of mine who I met from doing a little bit of improv, his musician name is Funky Kola and he makes trip-hop music, and he’s fantastic. So, I spoke to him to see if he’d be interest in doing something with me for fringe and he says sure, and the next day he had written a song, and he sent it to me,” she says, laughing and still clearly reeling from her friends’ enthusiasm, and he couldn’t have bestowed his talents on a more appreciative person than Cheryl. “Sound is so important in creating a dreamy vibe, or creating feelings,” she says, “He’s written three original songs and they’re just all of them brilliant.”
Cheryl relates a story to me about co-producer Raja Chemali, who drives for Uber. He picks up a passenger, and begins making small talk with her, asking her what she does for a living. Turns out she’s a theatre student who loves set design, and A Closer Look happened to be on the lookout for a set designer. Kismet. Cheryl says, “There’s been a lot of that, which makes me feel like we’re doing the right thing.”
One of the things Cheryl has been grateful for during Novice Productions’ maiden voyage is the support from the St. Ambroise FRINGE Festival. “I’ve really loved the FRINGE workshops they’ve given us, like the social media workshop, the publicity workshop, the tech workshop,” Cheryl says with palpable excitement, “I feel like I’m learning so much that I feel like it’s been a really great experience. I paid to put on my show, but I’m getting this amazing training.” A Closer Look is a great example of why the theatre community needs the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival: people need a place to try theatre. When it comes to arts, it’s much easier to try your hand at guitar, or painting, with relatively few supplies. But for the good of the ecology of the theatre scene in Montreal, we need more groups like Novice Productions who are willing to take on ambitious artistic projects in the name of camaraderie and creativity.
For co-producer Raja, it’s hard to know what to expect from his first-ever St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival experience. “I just want to do it and be part of it,” he says. “I just want to experience with the purest mind, and with interest, and we’ll see what will happen.”
As rehearsal winds down, a cast member suggests the group heads to a nearby park to enjoy the last of the sun, maybe drink a cold beverage, and continue to enjoy each other’s company. “Like last time,” he says. As people file out of the room, they say goodbyes to each other, and take the time to wish each other well.
A Closer Look runs from June 8 – 17th at the Studio Jean-Valcourt de Conservatoire. For tickets please click here.